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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Imagine the Beltway at New Hampshire Avenue

The Beltway is a dangerous road full of daunting lane shifts and bottlenecks that bring the ire of even the most seasoned drivers. The area around its junction with I-95 receives a lot of attention, but the problems on its northern counterpart often go ignored.

Westbound 495/95 is four lanes until the interchange with US-1. Both ramps from US-1 to The Beltway create additional westbound lanes, making it six lanes wide at the 95/495 split. Four lanes continue westbound. The ramps from Southbound 1-95 swell the roadway back to six westbound lanes. One lane splits off as an exit for northbound New Hampshire Avenue. A flyover ramp replaces it, creating a weave-style merge for cars entering the westbound Beltway from NH northbound and exiting the Beltway southbound. After the interchange, the highway quickly bottlenecks from 6 lanes back to four. Sound confusing? Try diving it.

A driver who wants to exit the Beltway at New Hampshire Avenue northbound must cross two lanes of traffic even if they were in the far right lane before the I-95 merger. For drivers wishing to head southbound on New Hampshire, they must still cross an extra lane of traffic and then contend with merging across the cars entering the Beltway.

View NH Av Interchange in a larger map

My idea would be to remove one westbound lane where northbound 1-95 splits off to the north, making the stretch between northbound I-95 and southbound I-95 three lanes. When the two southbound lanes join the Beltway, it will be five lanes wide.

Next, remove the exit to southbound New Hampshire Avenue, eliminating a dangerous merge area. Instead, direct that traffic down the northbound exit to a left turn, much like the Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, and University Boulevard exits off the westbound Beltway. The intersection at the end of the northbound exit is already signaled, it would only need provisions for left turning (southbound) vehicles.

In addition to making this interchange safer for Beltway drivers, it creates a safer environment for pedestrians on New Hampshire Avenue. Not by much, but it would be a start. But just for kicks, I threw in a small street grid, in hopes that Hillandale may one day be a little more pedestrian friendly. They already have a LEED Gold building, perhaps more positive change is on the way.

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